Ronnie O’Sullivan came from 4-1 down to beat Ken Doherty 6-5 and keep alive his hopes of a seventh Betway UK Championship title.
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Following the early exits of Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy and John Higgins, another shock looked on the cards in York when defending champion O’Sullivan started slowly against 49-year-old veteran Doherty.
But the Rocket turned the match around and came out on top in an exciting conclusion to set up a last-32 meeting with China’s Zhou Yuelong. O’Sullivan currently shares Steve Davis’s record of six UK titles as well as Stephen Hendry’s mark of 18 Triple Crown victories so he will make a new piece of snooker history if he lifts the trophy in a week’s time.
World number three O’Sullivan has already landed the Shanghai Masters and Champion of Champions titles within the past three months and has now won 21 of his 23 matches this season.
But it was 1997 World Champion Doherty who dominated the early stages today as breaks of 66, 76, 77 and 71 put him 4-1 ahead. He also had chances in frame six but couldn’t take them and O’Sullivan launched his come back with a run of 75. Further breaks of 76 and 65 helped put five-time World Champion O’Sullivan 5-4 up.
He could have closed out the match in frame ten but missed the brown to a centre pocket and his opponent punished him with a run of 48 to make it 5-5.
O’Sullivan had first chance in the decider and made 31 before running out of position. Doherty had one opportunity but could only make 6 before missing a tough long pot to a baulk corner. O’Sullivan got back in with an excellent mid-range red to a top corner and added 58 to seal the result.
“Ken played marvellously well for the first five frames, it was such fluent stuff,” said O’Sullivan. “He was playing with freedom and that’s hard to stop. I had to be patient. I was nervous at the start and shaking, and when that happens your opponent senses it.
“I want to have fun and entertain but sometimes I put too much meaning into winning and losing. I train myself not to be bothered and to be be happy even if it all goes wrong. If you start from that point then anything is a bonus. It’s a self-preservation thing. It’s wonderful to win titles but the most important things are fresh air, friends and family and just having a good time.”
Ding Junhui got the better of a tense finish to edge out Matthew Selt 6-5 . Two-time UK Champion Ding now meets Xiao Guodong in a Chinese derby.
Selt top scored with 130 as he took a 4-2 lead, then Ding recovered to 4-4. Romford’s Selt won the ninth and had a chance to clear from 55-0 down in the tenth but narrowly missed an attempted double on the last red. Ding got the better of a safety battle on the red and made it 5-5.
Both players had chances in the decider and Selt crucially missed the green to a baulk corner after potting the last red with the score at 34-45. World number eight Ding took advantage to book his third round spot.
“I tried so hard and I was happy to win,” said Ding. “I wasn’t making big breaks so I had to find another way to win.”
Luca Brecel made three consecutive centuries, 135, 109 and 101, during a 6-5 win over Liam Highfield. David Gilbert’s break-building was even more impressive in a 6-4 win over Peter Ebdon. Yushan World Open finalist Gilbert made a 131 in the opening frame and also had three tons in a row from 2-1 down, knocking in 134, 133 and 100.
China’s Yan Bingtao thrashed Paul Davison 6-1 while Martin O’Donnell made a 139 in a 6-2 win over Chen Feilong. More big breaks came from Gary Wilson as he beat Sam Baird 6-3 with 85, 113, 63, 103 and 93.
Jak Jones beat Joe Swail 6-5 in a dramatic finish. Welshman Jones needed two snookers on the colours in the deciding frame but got them before clearing from blue to black for victory.